Tag Archives: 2012 movies

Top 10 Breakthrough Performances of 2012

2012 saw a number of bonafide A-list movie stars emerge. Jennifer Lawrence, Channing Tatum, and Jeremy Renner all parlayed smaller success into box office hits. But what about those who started their big-screen journeys this year? Here is my list of the ten actors who entered onto my radar in the biggest ways this year. This list is of course subjective, since it depends in part on what movies I have and have not seen in previous years, as in most cases these performances are not actually acting debuts. These are just actors who I had not been familiar with prior to 2012.

1. Dane DeHaan, Chronicle/Lawless/Lincoln

DeHaan was far and away the big discovery of the year for me. I kept going to see movies without realizing he was in them, but he always impressed me. My first exposure to him was Chronicle, where he was convincing and darkly charismatic as a the young anti-hero who accidentally develops supernatural abilities. Then, he stole his scenes as the lovable Cricket in Lawless. His best work is actually yet to be released, though; he is one of the best parts of the impressive The Place Beyond the Pines, which I caught at TIFF. (The movie will get a theatrical release in March of this year.) DeHaan will also star alongside Daniel Radcliffe in the beat drama Kill Your Darlings, and it was recently announced that he’ll play Harry Osbourne in Marc Webb’s Spider-Man reboot sequel. There are definitely big things on the horizon for this guy.

2. Doona Bae, Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas was filled to the brim with Hollywood A-listers, but it was actually this young Korean star who stole the film for many people. Bae has had a prosperous acting career already, having starred in Korean cult favourites like The Host and Chan-wook Park’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, but for those (like myself) who are less familiar with contemporary Korean cinema, she was a new face in Cloud Atlas. As a futuristic clone of sorts, Bae evoked the perfect combination of naivite, fear, and rebellion, making for one of the film’s most emotionally resonant storylines.

3. Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

There was a time when child acting largely consisted of charming lisps and mugging for the camera. But recent performers like Max Records (Where the Wild Things Are), Elle Fanning (Phoebe in Wonderland), and Bailee Madison (Brothers) seem to have upped the expectations. And now, Wallis (who was six when Beasts was filmed) offers a shockingly natural and emotional performance. Her maturity here is astounding. Just think of what she could be capable of in a few more years.

4. Samantha Barks, Les Miserables

Like Cloud Atlas, Les Mis had a star-studded cast offering a string of powerhouse performances. But along with Eddie Redmayne (who was a new face for some, but who I quite enjoyed in last year’s My Week With Marilyn) this young brit more than held her own in the role of Eponine. Barks played the role in the London production of Les Mis and was cast as a result of that, and her experience is certainly apparent. Along with havinga a great voice, Bark’s Eponine is an utterly compelling character, and she slays “On My Own”.

5. Skylar Astin, Pitch Perfect

We all love Anna Kendrick, so it’s no surprise that she was lots of fun in the silly but well-meaning Pitch Perfect. But Astin, who played the main love interest, was a very pleasant surprise. As part of the original Broadway cast of Spring Awakening (who wasn’t in that production?) it makes sense that he has the vocal chops for the musical numbers. But he also brought a quirky charisma that gave the film a little more bite than it might have had otherwise. Astin’s performance was charming thanks in part to his saucer-like puppydog eyes, but also largely because of some strong comedic timing and a down-to-earth charm that few performances in simple teen comedies can master.

6. John Magaro, Not Fade Away/Liberal Arts

Speaking of offbeat, we have this guy. He had no small feat as the lead in David Chase’s Not Fade Away, playing a rockstar-in-training, going toe-to-toe with James Gandolfini, and also having to embody the ’60s cool that the film celebrates. And for the most part, he did a really solid job. His Bob Dylan-esque vibe served him well, and he even made a convincing frontman in the band that he and his buddies start. I liked Magaro even more in a supporting role in Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts, though, where he plays a depressed, David Foster Wallace-worshipping college student. He won’t be the easiest to cast, but the guy is memorable in the right role.

7. Alicia Vikander, Anna Karenina

Swedish-born Vikander played a naive but fiesty young woman in Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, and she brought a slightly ethereal style that suited the film quite well. Her tenuous romance with the character played by Domhnall Gleeson (who is also good, but is disqualified from this list, since I’ve seen him in Never Let Me Go and the Harry Potter films) is charming, and more complex than one might originally think. Between this and A Royal Affair (which I have not seen), she seems to be finding her footing as a costume drama ingenue.

8. Bella Heathcote, Not Fade Away

This Australian beauty actually garnered more attention for her work in Dark Shadows (which I have avoided), but I thought she was quite charismatic in Not Fade Away. She perfectly captures the ’60s vibe, and while her character initially seems one-dimensional, Heathcote does some nice things with the nuance and facets that emerge as the film goes on.

9. James D’Arcy, Cloud Atlas/Hitchcock

It seems almost like cheating to call these “breakthrough”  performances. Out of everyone on this list, D’Arcy certainly has the most extensive resume. I just am not at all familiar with him, since much of his work has been in Britain. But he made his mark in two small roles for me this year. He was so convincing in the 1970s Cloud Atlas storyline that I thought for a while that his character was actually being portrayed by an elderly man. He was also understated and lovely in the storyline where he played Ben Whishaw’s lover. And while he may have gone a touch too far over the top in Hitchcock, he brought some spot-on body language to his portrayal of Anthony Perkins.

10. Cody Horn, Magic Mike

This was actually a pretty divisive performance, but I thought Horn was quite effective as the love interest in Magic Mike. Her ultra low-key style was too affected or awkward for some, but I thought she was a great fit for Soderbergh’s stipped-down filmmaking approach. She brought an unexpected vibe to the film, but I thought it was an interesting portrayal.

Honorable Mentions: It was a good year for kid performances. Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman slipped into the Wes Anderson world perfectly in Moonrise Kingdom, while young Pierce Gagnon was disarmingly composed as Emily Blunt’s son in Looper. Sam Claflin edged towards Catching Fire superstardom in Snow White and the Huntsman, while Karan Soni was lovably dorky and understatedly hilarious in Safety Not Guaranteed. And in terms of complete acting rookies, Gina Carano kicked butt in Haywire, while Dwight Henry broke everyone’s heart in Beasts of the Southern Wild.


Final 2013 Oscar Nomination Predictions

Well, it’s been a while. A couple people have asked if I was going to do Oscar predictions like I have in the past. Clearly, it won’t be as in-depth as previous years, but I thought I’d at least post a few last-minute predictions (with a little bit of commentary) ahead of Thursday’s big announcement.

Best Picture

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Lincoln
  3. Les Miserables
  4. Silver Linings Playbook
  5. Argo
  6. Life of Pi
  7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  8. Django Unchained
  9. The Master
  10. Moonrise Kingdom

The first five are shoe-ins, I’d say. And of course, the Academy can pick anywhere between five and ten nominees. I feel like there are enough critical darlings from 2012 that they’ll go for the full ten, though. #6-10 on my list have pretty much no chance of wnning, but I feel like they have enough supporters to score nominations. The only other movie I could really see potentially getting in other than these ten is The Hobbit.

Best Director

  1. Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
  3. Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
  4. Ben Affleck, Argo
  5. Ang Lee, Life of Pi

This is the list I had before the Director’s Guild nominations, and today’s announcement more or less cemented my feelings. This is a bit of a weird category, though, since my predictions leave out a number of very respected directors with big Oscar contenders. I think The Master is too inaccessible to earn Paul Thomas Anderson his second Director nod. Silver Linings Playbook is loved, but may not be seen as the same kind of “achievement” as the five listed above. Tarantino’s Django may be too “niche” or campy for voters to embrace to this degree.

Best Actor

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  2. Denzel Washington, Flight
  3. Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
  4. Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
  5. John Hawkes, The Sessions

So who is getting left out in the cold? My guess right now is Joaquin Phoenix, since the SAG nominations spelled trouble for The Master. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him bump out Hawkes (whose buzz is waning) or even Cooper, though. Is the world really ready for “Academy Award Nominee Bradley Cooper”?

Best Actress

  1. Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
  2. Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
  3. Naomi Watts, The Impossible
  4. Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
  5. Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild

This is still a very unsettled category, isn’t it? The only two who I’d say are truly safe are Lawrence and Chastain. I could see Cotillard pulling a Tilda Swinton and getting shut out despite precursor support. And is the Academy really going to nominate young Wallis? Helen Mirren would be a much more typical pick. Even Emmanuelle Riva is a dark horse, though I suspect she will become one of those critical favourites who misses at the Oscars. (Michael Shannon, Lesley Manville, and Elizabeth Olsen feel your pain.)

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
  2. Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
  3. Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
  4. Alan Arkin, Argo
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained

This has the potential to be a really fun category…or a really boring one. Jones and probably De Niro are locks, but what about the rest. We’ve got campy villains (Bardem and DiCaprio), handsome heroes (Redmayne, McGregor), quirky eccentrics (Waltz and Hoffmna), and some old dudes (Arkin, Goodman) all in the running. And is it possible Django could actually get multiple Supporting Actor nominations? Or will that just lead to vote-splitting and cause everyone from that film to miss out? Despite what I thought early on in the race, this might be the most interesting cateogory.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  2. Sally Field, Lincoln
  3. Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
  4. Helen Hunt, The Sessions
  5. Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Hathaway seems to have this category sewn up. But as for the other nominees, Field is a lock, Kidman has become a surprisingly strong force, and Hunt’s chances are pretty good (but could take a hit if Hawkes misses out). But that fifth spot? I’m going with Smith, but Amy Adams could definitely still sneak in, and critical favourite Ann Dowd isn’t completely out of the running, either.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Zero Dark Thirty
  2. Django Unchained
  3. The Master
  4. Moonrise Kingdom
  5. Looper

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. Lincoln
  2. Silver Linings Playbook
  3. Argo
  4. Life of Pi
  5. The Perks of  Being a Wallflower

Looper (2012)

Is Joseph Gordon-Levitt a movie star? The folks in Hollywood certainly seem to think so. After leading indie films like (500) Days of Summer and 50/50 to wider success, Levitt has received key supporting roles in big movies like The Dark Knight Rises and the upcoming Lincoln. But while his latest film, Looper, may not have Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg at the helm, it can certainly still be classified as a bona fide blockbuster action flick for the young actor to headline.

And while he may not be as big of a name, writer-director Rian Johnson has proven his clout as a director with smaller movies like 2005’s Brick and 2008’s The Brothers Bloom. So when film geeks found out that he and Levitt (who also starred in Brick) were teaming up again with a bigger budget and a sci-fi plot, the excitement was palpable. And, as it turns out, that excitement was absolutely warranted. Looper is the kind of bold, grand Hollywood blockbuster that critics constantly hope for, but only see once or twice a year. It has a brain in its head and an artistic sparkle in its eye. And, quite simply, it’s the best movie of 2012, so far.

Levitt plays Joe, a wayward assassin living in the year 2044. Being a “looper”, his job is to kill rival gangsters sent back from the future. Thirty years beyond Joe’s time, time travel has been invented and it has also become impossible to dispose of dead bodies (hence why they’re sent back to Joe’s time for removal). But, of course, there is a catch: for the sake of simplicity, loopers are eventually sent their future selves to kill (thus completing the “loop”). When Joe’s future self (played by Bruce Willis) decides to fight back against his seemingly inevitable end, this sends young Joe into a race against time, the mob, and (quite literally) himself.

At its heart, Looper is a sci-fi blockbuster. However, despite featuring a gun-toting Bruce Willis, it actually goes fairly light on the shoot-’em-up action. Don’t get me wrong – there are enough chases and blood splatters to satisfy those looking for a high-octane thriller. But for audience members looking for a little more depth, it also offers some surprisingly complex moral questions, unique character development, and delicate artistry. Rian Johnson applies his stylized visuals perfectly to a bigger scope, but he also doesn’t lose the intimacy that made the hard-boiled Brick crackle with such electricity.

Joe is an undeniably complex protagonist. In many ways, he is despicable. But while he’s hedonistic and ruthless, he is not without remorse. And by juxtaposing him against his even more morally complex future self (Willis), it highlights the emotional toll that his lifestyle has hit him with. As does young Joe’s unique relationship with a young single mother, Sarah (Emily Blunt), who he meets while tracking his future self. While some might argue that the film takes a slower turn once Joe meets Sarah and her son, the tenuous, frayed bonds that are revealed between that trio of characters offers the film its emotional heft. Blunt, especially, shines as the strong but vulnerable Sarah, and it’s largely her nimble performance that gives the film’s finale such a punch.

And speaking of emotion, it’s easy to get swept up in the film’s beauty. Johnson creates an expansive, slightly off-kilter dystopic world that is bleakly stunning. Something as simple as a shot of a skyline or a cornfield drips with such melancholy that it’s nearly overwhelming. It’s hard to pin down what it is about Johnson’s anti-Americana vision that works so well, but somehow Looper comes out feeling like a grade-A Important Film because of it.

This is not a perfect film. While Joe, Sarah, and her son are interesting characters, other supporting players (especially those played by Piper Perabo and Noah Segan) seem to get discarded part way through, and never fulfill their potential to be impactful. A few plot twists feel overly convenient and ultimately pointless. However, for the most part, Johnson has created a well-structured, thoroughly engrossing blockbuster. At two hours long, it never drags, and I was happy to let myself be pulled along for the ride. While watching it, I almost forgot that it was a sci-fi movie where people fly around on hovering motorcycles. It just felt like a rich drama that I wanted to see more of. And if you ask me, that’s one of the biggest compliments that I can give to a film. Looper is the rare blockbuster that can knock you back with its visual flare and still stay on your mind long after the credits roll.


Things We Learned from TIFF 2012

With TIFF winding down, I thought I’d take a look at some of the shifts that we saw, in terms of the upcoming Awards season. I didn’t find there were any huge surprises, but as usual, some new favourites emerged, and some anticipated flicks lost traction.

  • Bradley Cooper can act! (And might get his first Oscar nom, to boot.)
    • I’ve been a Bradley Cooper fan for a while. And while the movies themselves weren’t that great, I thought he showed some acting potential in Limitless and Valentine’s Day. But boy, did he get a good response at TIFF this year. He’s never been much of a critical favourite, but Cooper earned raves for both The Silver Linings Playbook and The Place Beyond the Pines (which is currently slated for a 2013 release). It’s hard to say if he’ll make the jump to Oscar nominee this year, but right now, I’d say he has a decent shot. Especially if he gets a boost from a certain co-star…
  • Speaking of which, Jennifer Lawrence will probably become the youngest actress to get two Oscar nominations
    • The Silver Linings Playbook was met with great response and pegged as a crowd-pleaser. Jennifer Lawrence received heaps of praise, too. Add in the good reviews for The Hunger Games and her general likeability, and I imagine she’ll probably get her second Oscar nomination at just 22 years old. She might just even win the whole thing.
  • The Master, The Silver Linings Playbook, and Argo will be big Oscar players, like we thought
    • These three seemed well-suited for Oscar glory, and they all received nearly universal praise at TIFF. I’d expect them all to get Best Picture and acting nominations.
  • Hyde Park on Hudson may not be the big Oscar player many thought it would be
    • The FDR biopic really just failed to make much of an impression at all at TIFF. Its buzz seems to have dropped considerably overnight – even for Bill Murray, who seemed like the film’s only definite nomination.
  • Kristen Wiig definitely won’t be getting her second Oscar nom this year
    • Imogene‘s reviews were so bad that I’d expect the film to be shuffled for an inconspicuous limited release next summer
  • Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha), Noami Watts (The Impossible), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Smashed) are now Best Actress dark horses
    • Winstead’s goodwill from Sundance carried over, Watts earned raves, and Gerwig came out of nowhere to become a critical darling. But will any of them sneak in for a nomination?
  • Anna Karenina and Cloud Atlas will do really well in the technical categories. But will they score anywhere else?
    • Both received mixed reviews but were lauded for their visuals. Knightley still seems like a good bet for Best Actress, but will either find much traction elsewhere in the big categories?

TIFF 2012: The Place Beyond the Pines

Just a few days in, and TIFF has already screened a spat of critic and movie fan favourites. From grand blockbusters like Looper and Cloud Atlas to human dramas like Argo and The Master, big stars and big directors are already pleasing crowds at the festival. And you might as well add Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines, to that list. Met with generally positive response from critics, the film is likely to connect on a gut level with many viewers.

Pines made its world premiere on Friday night, and I entered the press screening early this morning with the unique experience of knowing virtually nothing about the film. And honestly, it’s best to know as little as possible about this film going into it. As such, I’ll be very vague with the plot description. Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a motorcycle stunt driver. Bradley Cooper plays Avery, a newly minted and overqualified police officer. When Luke gets caught up in some illegal activities, the two inevitably come face to face. Their meeting then sparks a chain reaction of repercussions that affect not only them, but also their family.

At its core, The Place Beyond the Pines is a story about masculinity and the consequences of actions. And Cianfrance evokes the ache of regret beautifully. There is a palpable sense of uncertainty, and like the characters on screen, the audience is held in a constant state of tension. This is not an action-packed movie, yet there is such suspense in every character interaction. A number of figurative threads could be pulled at any time during this film and the lives of the characters would almost instantly unravel.

Cooper perhaps does the best job of conveying this unsettled tone. Much of the latter part of the film deals with Avery’s struggle to come to terms with his past decisions, and Cooper gives an aching, slow-burning performance. His character is wonderfully complex, and Cooper sinks his teeth into every nuance of the role. It’s easily his best performance to date.

Also breaking new ground here is up-and-comer Dane DeHaan. Though DeHaan does not appear until later on in the film, his character quickly becomes a key player, and DeHaan deftly navigates the epic relationship landscape that Cianfrance has constructed by this point. He’s already impressed me this year in Chronicle and Lawless, but now given a meaty dramatic role, DeHaan shines even brighter. He’s given some scenes that easily could have seemed overly laboured or difficult to believe, but DeHaan’s easy naturalness never wavers. He just sinks into the role and inhabits every corner of it.

Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises)gives another fantastic, chameleon-like performance as a man who takes Luke under his wing. His subtle humour is welcome in this heavy film, yet his character also has plenty of demons of his own. Gosling turns in yet another great, emotionally captivating performance, and Eva Mendes is surprisingly good as the woman his character peruses.

One thing that really surprised me about The Place Beyond the Pines was the scope of the film. Cianfrance has experimented with time lapses already in Blue Valentine, but while that film felt suffocating in its intimacy, Pines feels almost grand and epic in its ever-expanding story. And Cianfrance put every minute of the two and a quarter hour runtime to good use. Yes, a couple of story elements feel a bit convenient and/or melodramatic. And yes, I did find the second third of the film to be a little too conventional in its “dirty cop” tropes (though Ray Liotta is great in his very small role). But ultimately, none of that mattered. The Place Beyond the Pines packs an emotional punch the gut. This movie is about the consequences of our actions. And as characters’ past decisions start to affect innocent people, it’s hard not to get engrossed in the injustice and tragedy of it all. Simply put, The Place Beyond the Pines feels poetic without being pretentious. It might not fully satisfy those looking for a bit more violence in their studies in machismo, but the slow-burning drama makes for a far more substantial product.